Some of you may have heard me say that I take it as a very high compliment when someone lets me know that they disagree with something that I have said or written. The reason that I take it as a compliment is that to disagree means first of all that the person expressing disagreement has read or heard what I wrote or said, taken it seriously, and considered it. If someone says to me after a service “great sermon” or something like that, while I appreciate the kindness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they really paid much attention.
On Wednesday I wrote about the Supreme Court case of 303 Creative vs. Elenis, about a web designer who is suing to invalidate a Colorado law that forbids discrimination in commerce on the basis of sexual orientation and other protected categories. A congregant wrote to ask my opinion of the case.
First of all, I’m not a lawyer but in my opinion this case should not have reached the Supreme Court at all. The owner of 303 Creative, Lorie Smith, has never designed a website for any wedding, gay or straight. It gives me no joy to say this but I think this is another effort on the part of certain Supreme Court Justices to impose their conservative Christian values on a country that by and large -- as yesterday's passage of the Respect for Marriage Act demonstrates -- believes that two people who love each other should have the right to marry and have that marriage recognized by the government, whether that is a man and a woman, two men, or two women, and regardless of their race or background. I’m concerned that a verdict in favor of 303 Creative, unless very narrowly tailored, could have the effect of invalidating a lot of laws throughout the country that protect the rights of LGBTGQ folks.
However, I do think that the First Amendment freedom of speech means the right to refrain from speech as well as the right to speak. There has to be a way to distinguish between pure commercial activity and commercial activity which is also expressive behavior. Anything that is truly "off the shelf" needs to be sold to all comers but once we are talking about custom made items, that becomes expressive conduct and I think a kosher baker can decline to decorate a cake with Messianic symbols, a web designer can decline to design a website for something the designer finds religiously objectionable, etc. If I have a company that prints custom T-shirts I think I should have the right to reject orders to print messages I disagree with. Since I'm not a lawyer I don't know precisely how such laws and regulations need to be written but these are the general principles I think ought to be followed.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian